BY ANNA STEENSON
Hindu temples rising out of the cornfields, office buildings converted to Buddhist monasteries, gymnasiums used for Christian worship and basements of houses used for Muslim ceremonies are only some of the ways religious communities have found unique spaces for worship in Des Moines.
The Drake Community Press and the Comparison Project together are creating a photograph-enriched narrative book on the stories of the religions of Des Moines.
“There are cities that have diverse faith communities, that itself is not terribly a new story,” said Carol Spaulding-Kruse, director of the Drake Community Press. “What is interesting about ours is that these faith organizations have come to Des Moines and settled in sometimes unusual places or have built really distinctive spaces of worship. ”
The book project is centered on exploring the concept of sacred spaces and how a community can emerge within a new space.
“Any thing can be a sacred space,” said Tim Knepper, director of the Comparison Project. “I’ve most enjoyed, and at times been amused by or blown away by, is the creative ways in which communities, particularly refuge communities, reuse non-sacred spaces for sacred means.”
Des Moines has been a center for immigration and a home for refugees from across the globe.
“People don’t realize that Des Moines is a unique jewel with the diversity in the society right here in the city,” said Bob Blanchard, the project photographer. “Creating meaningful places of worship is one of the ways immigrants have been able to feel at home in Des Moines. I think there’s an international story to tell here.”
As the lead student editorial intern for Drake Community Press, Abbigail Maynard, initiates grant writing and organization for the project. Maynard, an English major, participates as a developmental editor that helps to guide the content of the book.
“Drake stresses the importance of actual experiences and actual internships,” Maynard said. “It is really important that students are getting opportunities across the curriculum to practice what they are learning in their disciplinary fields in a way that is important.”
Spaulding-Kruse and Knepper teach a joint class at Drake University, centered around the making of the content for the book.
Knepper, a religion professor at Drake, is embedding his religion capstone students into Des Moines’ diverse religious communities to instigate the content of the book. Spaulding- Kruse’s students will be editing the stories.
This collaborative class is different than many traditional English or religion classes because of the hands-on experience.
“What I like to do is get people motivated around a project where they sort of forget that they are learning,” Spaulding-Kruse said. “And what’s happening instead they feel this commitment to the project. People can sort of lose themselves in a greater goal.”